Cubicle Meeting Etiquette

Modern Manners Guy's 3 easy etiquette tips for meetings in tight office spaces (red stapler not included).

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #243

Cubicle Meeting Etiquette

In many workplaces nowadays, cubicles have become the new conference room. Not that they are increasing in size, but that they’ve turned into meeting places. Mainly because it’s just easier and more comfortable to chat with someone one on one in the comfort of your everyday 5-foot by 5-foot dwelling than in a giant imposing conference room.

However, sometimes when you invite someone into your workspace, they bring their improper behavior with them. Now you’re stuck with an unmannerly coworker filling up your cube with bad jokes, smelly food, and enough decibels to drown out a Metallica concert. Oh, and did they forget that you should be talking about business and not how hot the new person in marketing is?

Sponsor: Register for The Right Business Etiquette for Ambitious Managers,” a webinar with me, Richie Frieman, your Modern Manners Guy! Learn exactly what’s required of you at the office (and beyond) to further your career and make a good impression. 

When in a workplace cubicle, you can certainly relax, talk more casually, and even feel free to laugh a little. But remember that there are people around you who can hear everything that is going on. So before you send a meeting request, check out my top 3 Quick and Dirty Tips for proper cubicle meeting etiquette.

Tip #1: Respect My Space

Office cubicles don’t have doors – let alone ceilings – which is why people feel free to just hop right in and invade your space. I discussed the office character known as the Cubicle Invader in a previous episode on How to Deal with Annoying Coworkers. The Cubicle Invader likes to barge right in and camp out in your cube for hours, chatting about…nothing important. I find this invasion of space very improper. Even people don’t stay for hours on end like the Cubicle Invader, still the thought of someone just plopping right down in your extra chair or walking right in like you gave them a spare key, is a violation of personal space. Don’t think that just because there is not a door that you shouldn’t still obey common rules of hospitality.

If I was going to a coworker’s house, I wouldn’t just kick open the door and shout my arrival. Nor would I walk up to them, swipe their iPhone from their hand and say, “Hey, who are you emailing?” But when you invite someone to your cubicle for a meeting, they walk right in and even look over at your shoulder to see what you’re working on.

I can’t stand that!

Here are the simplest rules of announcing your arrival into someone’s space:

  1. The “Do Not Enter” Space. This is a one-foot area just outside someone’s cubicle that you should not cross before until you are invited to. Don’t barge in; wait outside until you’re let in.

  2. Knock. Always knock on the side of the cubicle so you don’t scare a person by your sudden appearance.

  3. Ask if you can sit down. It’s awkward to stand while someone else is sitting, so unless it hurts to sit, ask to take a seat so you can see eye to eye.

Tip #2: It’s a Meeting, Not a Barbeque

If you’ve ever read or listened to my previous Modern Manners Guy episodes, you know I’m a big time coffee drinker. Love it. Need it. Gotta have it. So when I walk around my workplace, or to a colleague’s office or cubicle for a meeting, I usually bring my cup of joe with me. And yes, sometimes, I may even bring a small snack like pretzels or a granola bar. One thing I don’t bring though is pile high plate of food that looks like I just came from a buffet. Even if the meeting is a lunch meeting, that does not necessarily mean you get to lay out picnic in someone’s space and go to town. Like their home, their cubicle is their personal space and should be respected as such.

If I don’t know the person with whom I’ll be meeting very well, I always ask if it’s okay for me to drink my coffee in their space. Some people can’t stand the smell of coffee (I know, crazy, right?) and I’d hate for them not to speak up, simply to spare my feelings. So when you enter someone’s cubicle, always ask if you can bring food or beverages in. And when you do, always be respectful of their area. Keep it clean, throw your trash away, and never put food or beverages on top of their papers or books. You’d hate to be the one who left a ring of soup on top of their favorite notebook. If the person truly doesn’t like anyone to eat or drink in their cube, then don’t press the issue. If you are meeting in their cube, it’s their rules. Save the snacking for when you’re done.

Tip #3: Watch What You Say

I’ll be the first one to admit it – I’m guilty of letting a work meeting slide from talking about marketing to discussing the best 1980s comedies. For the record, it’s The Goonies. No? Let’s discuss.

There’s nothing wrong with letting a meeting turn to a more casual discussion; it helps build relationships and even makes people feel more relaxed around one another. Plus, if you always talk about work – even at work – you’ll simply go crazy. However, this does not mean that every single cubicle meeting should turn into a discussion of pop culture. And when this does happen, be mindful that you are still at work and everyone can hear you.

You never want to be called out as the person who goofs off more than works. Sure you can be the goofy one, but be the hard-working one too. When you are in someone’s cube, don’t shout as if you were at the bar, especially when you’re having a discussion that would be better suited for the bar. Remember, cubes are not soundproof, so if you’re going to veer the discussion off work topics, keep the volume down so neighboring colleagues don’t hear you. And if you find yourselves talking more about your favorite season of Mad Men than next week’s conference, then it’s time to take the meeting outside the cubicle.

Do you have a great story about improper cubicle meeting etiquette? Post all the details in the comment section or on the Modern Manners Guy Facebook page.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com.  Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Cubicle image courtesy of Shutterstock.